A survey in Britain has revealed that more than half of veterinarians working in clinical practice had experienced online abuse in the past year, with younger, female vets more likely to be targeted.
The figures were released by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) to mark World Veterinary Day on April 30, as part of its new ‘Respect your vet team – end abuse’ campaign. The BVA is encouraging animal owners to ‘think before you type’ and consider the impact that harassment, trolling and unfair reviews can have on veterinary staff.
Veterinary services across the country faced have faced unprecedented pressures in recent years through the combined impact of Brexit, Covid, and a boom in pet ownership.
BVA President Justine Shotton said the current pressures on vet teams are immense and it was unacceptable that their jobs should be made even harder by abuse from clients, either online or in person.
“We’re very aware that a visit to the vet may be an anxious and uncertain time for animal owners, particularly when the prognosis is poor or the necessary treatment is costly, but it is absolutely unacceptable to take these frustrations out on veterinary staff. I would ask all owners to think before they type and consider whether their online comments are fair, respectful and courteous.”
Shotton said that while most clients were cooperative and grateful for the care their animals receive, a small minority was creating an intolerable environment for veterinary professionals in person and online.
“I know from experience the huge impact that a single aggressive or intimidating interaction with a client can have on your mental wellbeing. When incidents mount up it is no surprise that they can affect our sense of job satisfaction and ultimately drive skilled veterinary staff out of the profession,” she said.
Statistics from the BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey show that online abuse of veterinary professionals is nearly as common as abuse in person. In another survey last year 57% of vets in clinical practice reported that they had felt intimidated by clients’ language or behaviour over the past year, an increase of ten percentage points since the same question was asked in 2019.
The most common type of online abuse reported by vets was unfair reviews (90%). Almost half of those who experienced online abuse had experienced abusive language (46%), while one in three (33%) experienced trolling. A further three in ten (31%) experienced online harassment.
The new figures show that the impact of online abuse can be significant: vets who had experienced online abuse in the past 12 months were more likely to report that they will have left the profession in five years’ time to pursue another career (29% vs. 9% of vets who had not experienced abuse). Female vets (45% vs. 30% male) and younger vets (49% under 35 vs. 27% those 55 and over) were more likely to experience online abuse.
BVA is releasing a toolkit with resources to support vet clinics in protecting staff and limiting the frequency and impact of abuse from clients. These include tips on how to protect veterinary staff from online abuse, downloadable posters and graphics and a series of blogs. BVA is also working with Vetlife to tackle the effect of abuse on mental health and wellbeing and further resources will be added later this year.
» Vetlife Helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0303 040 2551, or via anonymous email.